Lords force Tories into climbdown over trade union “check-off” plans


The Tories have today made a significant concession on the Trade Union Bill that will mean public sector unions can continue to organise in workplaces in the same way.

Reforms to “check-off”, the system by which workers can be signed up as members by trade unions in public sector workplaces, have now been dropped. The planned legislation would have stopped unions collecting members subs through their pay packets – and the impact on trade unions such as Unison’s ability to organise would have been huge.

The bill was in the Lords for the final day of the report stage today, and a crossbench amendment to block the check-off ban had gained significant support. The Government have now conceded on the issue, and will put forward their own amendment, in what is partly another victory for the organisation of Labour Lords. The bill will head back to the Commons next week.

The move has been hailed by Unison General Secretary Dave Prentis, who said that the union had been set to “lose much of its income”.

“There’s much that’s wrong with the Trade Union Bill, but banning unions from using the check-off system to collect membership fees from employees in the public sector was among the most mean-spirited of all its proposals,” Prentis today said.

“But thanks to a good deal of union campaigning behind the scenes, UNISON and the TUC have built an effective coalition in the Lords that persuaded the government a ban would be both unjustified and unnecessary.

“Now at least Unison can concentrate on campaigning to protect public sector employees at work and the services they deliver, safe in the knowledge that it will not have to spend the next year running around workplaces with direct debit forms for fear of losing much of its income.

“Employers and unions across the public sector will have breathed a collective sigh of relief at today’s news that there has been a sensible change of heart in Westminster. And there’s no cost to the public purse as a result of this decision.”

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady also welcomed the change – but she also warned that there was much more still to do on protecting workers from the anti-union legislation.

“Today’s decision is the result of months of union and TUC lobbying – and we are glad of the support from peers of all parties and none,” O’Grady said.

“While this is an important milestone, the TUC remains opposed to the Trade Union Bill in its entirety and will continue to push for further changes when it is debated again in the House of Commons next week. We will be urging MPs to back sensible amendments from the Lords around the use of electronic balloting, facility time and union political funds.”

Lord Mendelsohn, shadow Business Minister in the House of Lords, said: “With Ministers responding positively to the mood of peers across the House, this is a major turning point on the Trade Union Bill – one of the most politically partisan pieces of legislation put before Parliament.

“The concessions offered on payroll deduction of union subscriptions, facility time and the powers of the Certification Officer are welcome. But I hope the Government will now find a similarly sensible way forward on the unresolved issues of e-balloting and the political fund, after the strong cross-party backing in the Lords of earlier amendments to the Bill.”

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